Don’t make the same mistakes with privatizing the management of household goods moves that DoD did with privatized military housing. And listen to military families, senators cautioned the commander of U.S. Transportation Command.
Officials must get the process right so that the household goods program doesn’t “end up where we are with the housing situation,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., during a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was referring to situations such as mold and mice in some privatized military housing, resulting partly from what some have said have been inadequate oversight and accountability on the part of DoD and the services.
“I really want to make sure we get this right, in terms of accountability, predictability and customer satisfaction,” Tillis said.
In the wake of problems such as damaged household goods and delayed moves, a number of frustrated military families have called on TRANSCOM to hold moving companies accountable for problems. TRANSCOM officials are in the early stages of developing a plan to contract out the core function of managing military moves to a private company, with a current timeline of having the transition completed by the beginning of peak summer season in 2021.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. asked TRANSCOM commander Gen. Steve Lyons for a commitment to make the needs of military families their priority in their effort, citing concerns raised by Army wife Megan Harless, member of an advisory panel convened by TRANSCOM. Harless stated the advisory panel has not been asked to weigh in on the idea of privatizing the household goods process, and expressed concern that TRANSCOM hasn’t fully researched the idea, and isn’t considering some other options that could help military families in the short term.
“This is all about improving curbside service for military families. That’s our North Star. That is the only reason for this effort,” said Lyons, who said he has received more letters on the issue of household goods than any other TRANSCOM issue in the six months he has been commander.
“I agree with the criticisms of the program. We need to take action to remedy the program as it exists today,” he said, adding that DoD has been studying the issue since 1996.
Lyons said the TRANSCOM effort is not “privatization,” since military moves are already conducted by private industry today. Rather, it’s putting the overall management of the household goods process in the hands of a private company.
He said he’s told service officials to “hold me accountable. Allow me to develop an acquisition tool to hold industry accountable,” rather than the current system "of very little centralized responsibility, even inside the government.”
Lyons said there has been some concern about the proposal within the moving industry, but others in the industry are supportive. “Some see an opportunity to enter the market. We want to grow the market,” he said.
Military moves have suffered with ever-growing shortages of truck drivers, and fewer workers to do the jobs such as packing and loading, for a variety of reasons including an improving economy that opened up jobs elsewhere. It’s especially difficult during the peak summer moving season, when military moves are competing with those in the private sector for the available trucks and workers.
Below the level of the move manager, Lyons said, DoD will still need the same or greater number of movers. “We just need the level of quality and accountability in the system,” Lyons said.
Lyons said moving industry associations have been drafting legislative language that would delay the proposed change for two years.
“That would be a gut punch to military families,” he said.